Bright green frogs croak peacefully to each other in a shaded pond, cooling off from the mid-summer heat. A few hundred yards away, a working historic grist mill still stands, designed by the same Delawarean who invented another kind of amphibian — the first “human” amphibious vehicle in 1805. These are just a few of the sights to be seen at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, situated along a peaceful, winding country road near Milford. Sitting on a 376-acre piece of Milford Millpond’s Nature Preserve, it is the perfect spot for a quick lunch in the picnic area or for spending the whole day exploring the site’s offerings.
The Nature Center, operated by the Delaware Nature Society, is home to historic Abbott’s Mill. The Mill was built in 1795 on a 20-acre pond. The structure burned down and was rebuilt in the early 1800s. The Mill boasts 16 different owners over the past 225 years.
Built by miller Nathan Willey, the Mill is operational today. The machinery of the Mill was invented by Oliver Evans, a native of rural Delaware. Evans was known as one of the most influential inventors in the United States. A few of his most notable accomplishments include designing and building the first fully automated industrial process, the first high-pressure steam engine, and the first amphibious vehicle.
“The Oliver Evans Grain Elevator system featured in the Mill was the third U.S. patent ever,” explains Matt Babbitt, site manager. “The advance in technology was so popular that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson contacted Evans to install it in their mills at Mount Vernon and Monticello in Virginia.
The grist mill system occupies all four floors of the building, with each level holding different portions of the operation: the water turbine, Archimedes’ screw, chutes and ladders, grist stones, and roller mills. There is also a modern miniature working model on the second floor so that visitors can visualize the operation of the system on a smaller scale — using beads instead of grain! Visitors can step back in time and explore the Mill on the third Saturday of each month from March to November. Private tours of the facility are also available.
The Mill and the nature preserve that surrounds it coexist beautifully, proving to be an enchanting spot for history and nature enthusiasts alike. Abbott’s Mill is a unique partnership between the state, who owns the property, and the Delaware Nature Society that manages the Mill, programming and grounds. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the mission of the Delaware Nature Society is: “connecting people to the natural world to improve our environment through education, conservation and advocacy.” The site serves between 12,000 and 14,000 visitors annually; however, this spring the Center recorded a 222% increase in the number of visitors.
In a time where social distancing is the new normal, the outdoor oasis offers a welcome break and an opportunity to reconnect. The scenic preserve at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center offers 6 miles of pet-friendly trails.
Visitors can also take a relaxing stroll on the site’s boardwalk. The handicap-accessible walkway was built as a Boy Scout project.
The preserve offers birdwatching blinds, hiking, canoeing and kayaking, in partnership with Quest Adventures. There are plenty of scenic views, as well as opportunities to participate in various nature programming. One of the available programs is the Certified Wildlife Habitat Garden, a program through the National Wildlife Federation. Wildlife habitat gardens act as a refuge for local birds, butterflies and other wildlife.
“We are the National Wildlife Federation state affiliate, which allows us to operate their habitat program. This means you can certify the garden in your yard, office, church or school. We have a group of volunteers that will do a yard consultation and tell you what to plant, and will help you connect with local nurseries that are carrying native plants,” Babbitt said.
The volunteers, or habitat stewards, receive hours of rigorous training and help maintain the preserve at the facility as well. Outside the visitor’s center, guests can enjoy a frog pond — full of friendly amphibians that greet passersby with an enthusiastic “ribbit!” Guests to Abbott’s Mill Nature Center won’t be disappointed, as the site offers a welcome respite and an opportunity to reconnect with nature and the past. You can learn more by visiting